“After the funeral, after the funeral will be time enough,” Mr. Buchanan
said, when his wife urged him to get it over, and to have his interview
with Mr. Morrison, the man of business, in whose hands all Mr.
Anderson’s affairs were. Everybody remarked how ill the minister was
looking during the week which elapsed between the old man’s death and
the large and solemn funeral, which filled the entire length of the High
Street with black-coated men. It was a funeral _d’estime_. There was no
active sorrow among the long train of serious people who conducted his
mortal part to its long home, but there were a great many regrets. His
was a figure as well known as the great old tower of St. Rule, which is
one of the landmarks from the sea, and the chief distinction of the town
on land, and he was a man who had been kind to everybody. He had been
very well off, and he had lived very quietly, spending but little money
on himself, and he had no near relation, only a distant cousin’s son, to
inherit what he had to leave behind him, for the brother, who was the
chief mourner, was a lonely man like himself, and also rich, and without
heirs. This being the case, old Mr. Anderson had used his money as few
rich men do. He had behaved to many people as he had done to Mr.
Buchanan. He had come to the aid of many of the poor people in St. Rule,
the fisher population, and the poor shopkeepers, and many a needy
family; therefore, though there were perhaps few tears shed, there was a
great and universal regret in all the town. Many men put on their
“blacks,” and went East, which was their way of indicating the quaint
burying-ground that encircled the ruins of the old cathedral, who would
not have swelled any other funeral train in the neighbourhood. He was a
loss to everybody; but there were few tears. An old man going home,
nearer eighty than seventy as the people said, a good old man leaving
the world in charity with everybody, and leaving nobody behind whom he
would miss much when he got there. A woman, here and there, at her
doorhead or her stairfoot, flung her apron over her head as she watched
the procession defiling into the wide space before the churchyard, which
was visible from the houses at the fishers’ end of the lower street. But
the tears she shed were for grief’s sake, and not for grief–for there
was no weeping, no desolation, only a kind and universal regret.
Mr. Buchanan was more blanched and pale than ever, as he walked
bareheaded behind the coffin. There was one, everybody said, who had a
feeling heart–and many were glad when the ceremonial–always of so very
simple a kind in the Scotch church, and in those days scarcely anything
at all, a short prayer and no more–was over, with the thought that the
minister being evidently so much out of health and spirits, and feeling
the loss of the kind old elder so deeply, was just in the condition in
which some “get their death,” from the exposure and chill of a funeral.
Several of his friends convoyed him home after all was completed, and
warned Mrs. Buchanan to take very good care of him, to give him some
good, strong, hot toddy, or other restorative, and do all she could to
bring back his colour and his spirit.
“We have all had a great loss,” said Mr. Moncrieff, who was another
leading elder, shaking his head, “but we are not all so sensitive as the
Poor Mrs. Buchanan knew much better than they did what made the minister
look so wae. She took all their advices in very good part, and assured
his friends that the minister felt their kindness, and would soon be
himself again. Alas, there was that interview still to come, which she
thought secretly within herself she would have got over had she been the
minister, and not have thus prolonged the agony day after day. There
were a great many things that Mrs. Buchanan would have done, “had she
been the minister,” which did not appear in the same light to him–as
indeed very commonly happens on either side between married people. But
she accepted the fact that she was not the minister, and that he must
act for himself, and meet his difficulties in his own way since he
would not meet them in hers. She did not comfort him with hot and strong
toddy, as the elders recommended; but she did all she knew to make him
comfortable, and to relieve his burdened spirit, pointing out to him
that Mr. Morrison, the man of business, was also a considerate man, and
acquainted with the difficulties of setting out a family in the world,
and impressing upon him the fact that it was a good thing, on the whole,
that Willie’s outfit had been paid at once, since Mr. Morrison, who
would be neither better nor worse of it in his own person, would be, no
doubt, on behalf of the heir, who was not of age nor capable of grasping
at the money, a more patient creditor than a shop in Edinburgh, where a
good discount had been given for the immediate payment of the account.
“They would just have worried us into our graves,” Mrs. Buchanan said,
and she added that Willie would probably be able to send home something
to help in the payment before it had to be made. She said so much
indeed, and it was all so reasonable, that poor Buchanan almost broke
down under it, and at last implored her to go away and leave him quiet.
“Oh, Mary, my dear, that is all very just,” he said, “and I admire your
steadfast spirit; but there are things in which I am weaker than you
are, and it is I that have to do it while you stay quiet at home.”
“Let me do it, Claude,” she cried. “I am not feared for Mr. Morrison;
and I could tell him all the circumstances maybe as well—-”
Perhaps she thought better, and had been about to say so; but would not
hurt in any way her husband’s delicate feelings. As for Mr. Buchanan, he
raised himself up a little in his chair, and a slight flush came to his
pale cheek.
“No,” he said, “I will not forsake my post as the head of the house.
These are the kind of things that the man has to do, and not the woman.
I hope I am not come to that, that I could shelter myself from a painful
duty behind my wife.”
“Oh, if I had been the minister!” Mrs. Buchanan breathed, with an
impatient sigh, but she said,–
“No, Claude, I know well you would never do that,” and left him to his
She had placed instinctively the large printed Bible, which he always
used, on the little table beside him. He would get strength there if
nowhere else. The day was gray and not warm, though it was the beginning
of June, and a fire had been lighted in the study to serve the purpose,
morally and physically, of the hot toddy recommended by the elder. Poor
Mr. Buchanan spread his hands out to it when he was left alone. He was
very much broken down. The tears came to his eyes. He felt forlorn,
helpless, as if there was nothing in heaven or earth to support him. It
was a question of money, and was not that a wretched thing to ask God
for? The filthy siller, the root of so much evil. He could have
demonstrated to you very powerfully, had you gone to ask his advice in
such an emergency, that it was not money, but the love of money that
was the root of all evil; but in his heart, in this dreadful emergency,
he cursed it. Oh, if it were not for money how much the problems of this
life would be lessened? He forgot, for the moment, that in that case the
difficulties of getting Willie his outfit would have been very much
increased. And, instinctively, as his wife had placed it there, he put
out his hand for his Bible. Is it possible that there should be poison
to be sucked out of that which should be sweeter than honey and the
honeycomb to the devout reader? The book opened of itself at that
parable over which he had been pondering. Oh, Mr. Buchanan was quite
capable of explaining to you what that parable meant. No one knew better
than he for what it was that the Lord commended the unjust steward. He
had no excuse of ignorance, or of that bewilderment with which a simple
mind might approach so difficult a passage. He knew all the readings,
all the commentaries; he could have made it as clear as daylight to you,
either in the pulpit or out of the pulpit. And he knew, none better,
that in such a case the letter killeth; but the man was in a terrible
strait, and his whole soul was bent on getting out of it. He did not
want to face it, to make the best of it, to calculate that Willie might,
by that time, be able to help, or even that Mr. Morrison was a
considerate man, and the heir a minor, and that he would be allowed
time, which was his wife’s simple conception of the situation. He
wanted to get out of it. His spirit shrank from the bondage that would
be involved in getting that money together, in the scraping and sparing
for years, the burden it would be on his shoulders. A thirst, a fury had
seized him to get rid of it, to shake it off. And even the fact that the
Bible opened at that passage had its effect on his disturbed mind. He
would have reproved you seriously for trying any _sortes_ with the
Bible, but in his trouble he did this, as well as so many other things
of which he disapproved. He knew very well also that he had opened at
that passage very often during the past week, and that it was simple
enough that it should open in the same place now. Yet, with instinctive
superstition he took the book, holding it in his two hands to open as it
would, and his heart gave a jump when he found this strike his eyes:
“Sit down quickly, and take thy bill, and write fourscore.” These were
the words, like a command out of heaven. What if that was not the inner
meaning, the sense of the parable? Yet, these were the words, and the
Bible opened upon them, and they were the first words that caught his
Suppose that this temptation had come to another man, how clearly would
its fallacy have been exposed, what daylight would have been thrown upon
the text by the minister? He would have almost laughed at, even while he
condemned and pitied, the futile state of mind which could be so led
astray. And he knew all that, but it had no effect upon the workings of
his own distracted mind at that dreadful moment. He went over it again
and again, reading it over aloud as he had done on the first occasion
when it had flashed upon his troubled soul, and seemed to give him an
occult and personal message. And thus he remained all the rest of the
afternoon, with his knees close to the bars of the grate, and his white,
thin hands blanched with cold. Surely he had caught a chill, as so many
people do in the cold and depression of a funeral. He rather caught at
that idea. It might kill, which would be no great harm; or, at least, if
he had caught a bad cold, it would, at least, postpone the interview he
dreaded–the interview in which he would sit down and take his bill and
write fifty–or perhaps fourscore.
“I think I have caught a chill,” he said, in more cheerful tones, when
he went down-stairs to supper.
But the minister here had reckoned without his wife. It might not be in
her province to see Mr. Morrison and arrange with him about the debt,
but it certainly was quite in her province to take immediate steps in
respect to a bad cold. He had his feet in hot water and mustard before
he knew where he was–he was put to bed, and warmly wrapped up, and the
hot toddy at last administered, spite of all remonstrances, in a potent
“Mr. Moncrieff said I was to make you take it as soon as you came in;
but I just gave in to your humours, knowing how little biddable you
were–but not now: you must just go to your bed like a lamb, and do
what I bid you now.”
And there could not be a word said now as to what was or was not the
woman’s sphere. If anything was her business at all, decidedly it was
her business to keep her family in health. Mr. Buchanan did what he was
bid, a little comforted by feeling himself under lawful subjection,
which is an excellent thing for every soul, and warm through and through
in body, and hushed in nerves, slept well, and found himself in the
morning without any chill or sign of a chill, quite well. There was thus
no further excuse for him, and he perceived at once in his wife’s eyes,
as she brought him his breakfast before he got up–an indulgence that
always followed the hot-foot bath and the hot drink over-night–that no
further mercy was to be accorded to him, and that she would not
understand or agree to any further postponement of so indispensable a
duty. When she took away his tray–for these were duties she performed
herself, the servants being few, and the work of the house great–she
said, patting him upon the shoulder,–
“Now, Claude, my dear, the best time to see Mr. Morrison is about eleven
o’clock; that will leave you plenty of time to get up and get yourself
dressed. It is a fine morning, and your cold is better. If you like, I
will send over to the office to say you are coming.”
“There is no necessity for that,” Mr. Buchanan said.
“No, no necessity, but it might be safer; so that he might wait for you
if he should have any temptation otherwise, or business to take him
“If he has business, he will see to it whether he knows I am coming or
not,” said the minister; “and if I do not see him this morning, I can
see him another day.”
“Oh, Claude, my man, don’t put off another day! It will have to be done
sooner or later. Do not keep it hanging over you day after day.”
“Well, then,” said the minister, with some crossness of tone, “for
goodsake, if you are so urgent, go away and let me get up. How can I get
myself dressed with you there?”
Mrs. Buchanan disappeared without another word. And he had no further
excuse for putting off. Even the wife of his bosom, though she knew it
would be a bad moment, did not know half how bad it was. Mrs. Buchanan
had made up her mind to it, however it might turn out. She had already
planned out how the expenses were to be lessened after Marion’s
marriage. Elsie was the only other girl, and she was but fourteen.
Several years must elapse before it was necessary to bring her out, and
give her that share in the pleasures and advantages of youthful life
which was her due. And between that time and this there was no privation
that the good mother was not ready to undertake in order to pay off this
debt. You would have thought to see their frugal living that to spare
much from it was impossible, but the minister’s wife had already made
her plans, and her cheerfulness was restored. It might take them a long
time to do it, but Mr. Anderson’s heir was only seventeen, and had still
a good many years of his minority to run. And Willie by that time would
have a good salary, and would be able to help. It would be a case of
sparing every sixpence, but still that was a thing that could be done.
What a good thing that education was so cheap in St. Rule. John, who was
going to be a clergyman, like his father, would have all his training at
home in the most economical way. And Alick was to go to Mr. Beaton’s,
the writer, as soon as he had completed his schooling, without any
premium. They might both be able to help if the worst came to the worst,
but between her own economies and Willie’s help, who had the best right
to help, seeing it was greatly on his account the money had been
borrowed, she had little doubt that in four years they would manage to
repay, at least, the greater part of the three hundred pounds.
This was all straightforward, but the minister’s part was not so
straightforward. He read over the parable again before he went
down-stairs, and made up his mind finally to take his bill and write
fifty. After all, was not this what Mr. Anderson would have desired? He
was an old man and took no particular interest in his heir. He would
not, of course, have left his money away from him, or injured him in any
way. He quite recognised his claim through his father, a cousin whom
the old man had never known, but who still was his next of kin; yet, on
the other hand, if it came to that, Mr. Anderson was more fully
interested in the young Buchanans. He had seen them all grow up, and
Willie and Marion had been a great deal more to him than young Frank
Mowbray. And Mr. Buchanan was his friend. The minister was persuaded
that old Mr. Anderson would far rather have pardoned him the debt than
extorted it from him almost at the risk of his life. “Take thy bill, and
sit down quickly, and write fifty.” The words of the parable seemed more
and more reasonable, more and more adapted to his own case as he read
them over and over. What he was about to do seemed to him, at the end,
the very right thing to do and the command of heaven.
Mrs. Buchanan met him in the hall with his hat brushed to a nicety, and
his gloves laid out upon the table. She came up to him with a brush in
her hand, to see if there was the faintest speck upon his broadcloth.
She was his valet, and a most cheerful and assiduous one, loving the
office. She liked to turn him out spotless, and to watch him sally forth
with delight and pride in his appearance, which never failed her. It was
one of the ways of the women of her day, and a pretty one, I think. She
was pleased with his looks, as he stood in the hall ready to go out.
“But why are you so pale?” she said; “it is not an affair of life and
death. I hope you are not feared for Mr. Morrison.”
“I am feared for everybody,” said Mr. Buchanan, “that has to do with
“Oh, Claude,” she said, “I just hate the filthy lucre myself, but it’s
not a question of life or death. The bairns are all well and doing well,
and will pay it off before Frank Mowbray comes of age. I promise you we
will. I have it all in my eye. Do not, my dear man, do not look so cast
He shook his head but made no answer. He was not thinking of what she
said. He was saying over to himself, “Sit down quickly, and take thy
bill, and write fourscore.”